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Tales of Halloween: B+

This review is maybe a bit of a placeholder; I did not take notes during the movie and I’d like to come back to it when I can find some better data on who directed what. For now, I will note that this was a totally fun horror anthology with ten segments. They’re very loosely linked insofar as they all take place in one town during Halloween. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you’d want to live. Neil Marshall’s closing segment ties together some of the other bits, but otherwise they’re just related by theme and locale.

If I had to bet, I’d say one of the thematic elements the creators decided to work with was revenge. There’s a lot of that going on. Also trick or treating, which is kind of a gimmie for Halloween. Also gore — this is probably going to win my personal Best Gore award for Fantasia — but that’s just because it’s a total love letter to 80s horror.

Which, let me tell you, this movie wears its heart on its sleeve. Lots of horror character actors you’ll recognize, a couple of even more amusing cameos, and so on. The Neil Marshall segment plays like a John Carpenter tribute in the most loving of ways.

I think this will roll into theaters around Halloween this year and if you like gory horror you should see it.

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Full Strike: B

This was pretty much OK. Very broad Hong Kong sports comedy with all the usual bits. There’s a drunken master, there’s an evil magistrate, there’s familial tension, and so on. Oh, and a random alien who lands in a UFO that looks like a badminton shuttlecock. Don’t pay too much attention to him, since he’s not actually part of the movie.

Right — the sport is badminton. Serious business! The producer, Andrew Ooi, introduced the movie and explained that they’re all big fans of badminton so why not make a movie about it? Fair enough.

Josie Ho was a standout; her transitions from washed up ex-champion to fierce competitor were a nice bit of acting. That’s the extra effort that you don’t always see in a farce.

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Cash Only: B

Cash Only is a competent movie. I’m reluctant to call it a crime movie, since it’s not really about a crime per se, but it’s certainly about criminals. Mostly it’s about a repeat loser, Elvis Martini, and the variety of scams and desperate measures he uses to get by. One day, in a fit of bad decision making, he overreaches. Things get worse.

The movie is set in the Albanian community of Detroit, which is what I liked most about it. I don’t think I learned a ton about Albanian immigrant culture but I did get a distinct sense of a community living mostly on the edge of failure with both deep and painful ties holding them together. One of the minor characters is a cop; he doesn’t judge the criminal enterprises of his friends, and they don’t much care that he’s supposed to arrest them.

If it wasn’t for the grand guignol of the climatic scene, it’d almost be a slice of life movie. I kept thinking of Michael Moore, perhaps because of the Detroit connection. One of the reasons I didn’t rate this one an A is because that climax didn’t totally pay off — the threat was there, as was the horror of the circumstances, but I wanted more from the antagonist.

So, hm. Held my attention but didn’t earn my passion. Worth watching if you get a chance.

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Anguish: A

Sonny Mallhi’s Anguish was excellent. There’s a teenage girl, Tess, with serious mental issues. Her mom is raising her alone while her dad is serving overseas. The question in this taut rural gothic is pretty simple: mental issues, or more?

The movie reaches a conclusion on that one but the journey is good enough not to spoil. In fact, I want to see it again soon for the sake of one relevant cinematographic decision that Susan pointed out to me. It’s not perfect. There’s a subplot that distracts from the main narrative and I think ultimately casts a bit of unnecessary confusion on various motivations, but the movie is strong enough so that it doesn’t detract significantly.

Without a really spectacular performance by Ryan Simpkins as Tess, the movie wouldn’t have had much of a center. She’s got a really tough job playing a quiet, conflict-adverse teenager. Tess hides behind thick hair and silence; Simpkins reveals with her eyes and reactions. The whole cast is strong, but Simpkins is amazing.

I also thought the realist indie aesthetic was great. It’s filmed like one of those documentaries about the death of the heartland, all long shots of cars and pickup trucks and close shots of people struggling with debt and each other. When Mallhi permits himself a horror jump scare, it’s way more effective because of the realist aesthetic.

Definitely worth seeking out if/when it hits theaters.

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Jeruzalem: D.

This was a lot of wasted potential. You’ve got a promising if somewhat goofy presence — American backpackers trapped in Jerusalem during the apocalypse. The found footage twist is pretty good: everything’s being filmed on Google Glass by Sarah, our viewpoint character. It’s a nice way to explain why she doesn’t just drop the camera and run away, plus the Paz brothers added some really clever moments around facial recognition and other wearable features.

Unfortunately the acting was really, really bad. I’m not going to pick on anyone in particular, because everyone was fairly wooden. If you’re doing helpless Americans abroad, you’ve got to have sympathetic characters and none of the main foursome was up to that task.

The writing didn’t help. Towards the beginning of the movie there’s an excellent chase scene which uses the Glass conceit to full advantage. You get disoriented right along with Sarah as she runs, you get a real feel for her lack of perspective, and it’s easy to understand how she gets lost in the warren of back alleys. Excellent stuff. It’s undermined by the ceaseless repetition of “hey, stop, hey, you, stop, hey, come back, hey, stop!” It’s as if the filmmakers were afraid of silence.

I could go on. The prelude, which is not presented as found footage, winds up being played for Sarah later. So if you’re going to present it within the found footage context anyway, why start the movie outside the frame? Hold it for later, don’t repeat it, and as a bonus you get to save your demon reveal rather than giving it up in the first five minutes.

Whoops, I went on. Done now. Don’t watch this on cable if you happen to trip over it some day.

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San Francisco Fielding This is what I did with my evening. To be precise, I had a small part in creating the conditions that made this possible. We did not execute perfectly for various and sundry reasons, but that’s what the human ability to learn and improve is for.

For non-Ingress players: the primary means of scoring points in the game is creating fields. Bigger fields are more points. Fields are always triangles. You create fields by generating links between portals. You make a link between two portals by going to the source portal and using up a key to the destination portal.

Thus, you could make a big triangle like that by creating a link between a portal in Oakland and a portal in Marin Highlands; then between the same portal in Oakland and a portal in Half Moon Bay; and then between the Half Moon Bay and Marin portals. Boom, lots of green.

Oh, yeah. The tricky part is that links can’t cross. So if there was already a link between, say, Candlestick Park and Alameda, you couldn’t create the link between Oakland and Half Moon Bay. This makes life tricky.

The coordination aspect of this is really the fun part, particularly since the other team will try and stop you from scoring via various methods if they notice. It’s like a much lower pressure version of moving your servers between data centers: plenty of planning, lots of moving parts, and a good team of people.

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I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, so obviously.

In the interests of testing the scope of music available, I travelled back to the best music critic on the Internet, glenn mcdonald. His final formal music review post is an eloquent exploration of the best music of 2012, ranging from Taylor Swift to European avant garde death metal. It finishes up with a Ylvis song, years before you wondered what the fox says. Bona fides enough.

He has 123 songs on his list. At the time, he constructed playlists on both Spotify and Rdio. Spotify had 93 songs; Rdio had 94. My Apple Music playlist has 96. Pretty much no difference.

It’s seven hours of great music, by the by.

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The entry that should be here was screened by LiveJournal because it contained a link to Deadline. According to the Abuse Team, "LiveJournal does not allow linking to Deadline, due to requests made by Deadline's legal department." Except the Abuse Team spelled out the whole URL, which I can't do because it's caught by the spam filter. I've edited the original post, available here, because screw Deadline. That post will be rewarding for anyone who's interested in genre film festivals located in Montreal. I'm not going to repost it here because screw LiveJournal for not standing up to Deadline.
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I’d been using the Wirecutter-recommended Accell Home or Away travel surge protector for travel until recently. It’s really good, but it only has 2 USB ports and when I started traveling with an external battery, that was too few. One USB port for my phone, one for my tablet, and none for my battery? Sad. In theory maybe I stop traveling with my tablet but then I add in my headphones, which charge via USB, and I’m back where I started.

Plus I just got this watch, so.

Anker 6-USB Port Charger Thus, I picked up Anker’s 6 port USB charger. It’s not a hub; it’s a small brick around the size of a very full men’s wallet that plugs into a wall outlet and charges a bunch of USB devices at once. I don’t imagine it’d do great with six items plugged into it, but it’s fine for phone and tablet and external battery. Anker’s other gear has performed very well for me (cables, car USB adapters), and this seems similarly solid from one trip’s worth of experience.

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Platinum SpecOps I think I’m the first Ingress player in the Bay Area to hit platinum specops, which means I’ve done 200 missions. (Missions are player-generated mini-quests that can be as easy as interacting with 4 portals or as hard as figuring out a set of passphrases over multiple miles.) This was not super-hard to do, but it did require a lot of persistence and some planning.

My 200th mission was Climb Mount Davidson by Agent hiryu; it was a nice walk up to the top of Mount Davidson, which was not terribly strenuous but which rewarded me with a great view nonetheless. My longest one — probably Hike Mt. Wanda, in Contra Costa County, which was a couple of miles of hiking up a nifty trail.

Plat SpecOps Badges I completed eight missions at Walt Disney World a month before Niantic opened up mission creation to almost anyone. If I had taken that trip two months later, I’d have been able to do 100+ missions in that week with minimal effort. No regrets! I did 17 Disneyland missions on our last trip there. I have 16 missions from business trips to LA, and four airport missions (one of which overlaps with the LA mission count). I did more annoying “hack every portal on this downtown San Francisco street” missions than I want to think about.

I completed 45 missions in Contra Costa County in one weekend, thanks in large part to a very busy mission creator in Martinez. I completed 26 of those missions on Saturday, a personal record that’ll stick until my next Walt Disney World trip. I then knocked off another six missions in San Francisco on Sunday, thanks in complete part to my own obsessiveness.

I completed a set of missions whose badges spell out “RESIST” and I completed a set of missions whose badges spell out “SMURF TEARS.” I was careful to do neither of them in order, because I think that kind of thing is a bit silly. My badges spell out “SISTER” and “MTRESAURSF,” instead. I didn’t take the time to figure out something clever to do with sad smurfs at the time, but if you need a good anagram, I’d recommend “FASTER RUMS” or “TSAR’S FEMUR.”

I don’t know that I’m going to hit onyx specops — 500 missions — any time soon. However, I’m not going to stop doing missions just because I got this badge, so we’ll see.

I will chatter on about any aspect of missions on demand, regardless of faction.

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Susan and I spent the afternoon hanging out at Point Bonita Lighthouse on the off chance that someone of the blue persuasion would drop by and try to do something interesting, in which case we had plans to dissuade them. As it turned out, we did get one visitor, but since our teammates had already done something larger and more interesting, there was no chance of tumult even if she’d had plans.

So we took a lot of pictures instead.

Golden Gate Bridge

Point Bonita Lifehouse

Coast North of San Francisco

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I’ve been playing a lot of Ingress recently. Short form: it’s Google’s augmented reality alien invasion PvP game; you physically go to in-game portals, which correspond with the locations of landmarks, public art, and so on, and perform various actions which lead to creating fields of influence over various areas. The two factions are competing to control the most minds; it’s literally scored in terms of mind units. Kind of sinister when you get right down to it.

The game interests me on a number of levels, so I’ll probably write a spate of posts about it before trailing off into inactivity again. The game design is perhaps accidentally interesting, the ad hoc social networks are totally fascinating, and it hits a sweet OCD spot for me in a way which has me exercising. I averaged around 5 miles a day of walking in December. Go me.

Oh, and the lore is written by Flint Dille. Old school tabletop gamers can be suitably amused at this juncture.

Here’s an excellent story about getting involved in the game. It’s what got me and Susan playing, and everything in it is entirely true. Except the bit about the scooter. I can’t attest to anything involving scooter play first hand. I have, however, had experiences analogous to everything else she talks about.

This is a pretty good primer on the game; it’s a little dated, since like any decent MMO Ingress has occasional updates, but on the whole it’s solid.

If you decide to play because you are reading this, you should play Enlightened. The most meaningful currency in Ingress is time. Skill matters some, but the balance is skewed way over towards time, particularly before you get to the tippy-top of the elder game. The only way to generate time out of thin air is to convince people to play on your side. So: play Enlightened.

Yes, the Resistance is the attractive spunky underdog group. Next post sometime this week I will provide you with a conceptual framework that explains why the Enlightened are the real underdogs, which hopefully will allow you to play Enlightened without feeling like you’re supporting the Illuminati.

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As always and forever, thank you.

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For nearly 20 years I didn’t have to do much business travel. These days life is different. When my trip frequency rose above once per month I evolved a bag strategy which is both imperfect and functional. It is also very heavy on the Tom Bihn gear, because I like his bags and I tend to stick with things that work well enough. Other companies also make great stuff; my former boss swears by WaterField bags, for example. Choice is awesome.

My general theme is simplicity. Painless packing is the single most important aspect of this whole thing so keeping it simple is important. Particularly when it comes to cables, I’ve often just bought an extra cable so I don’t worry about remembering to pick one up and carry it with me. This is useful to me because I’m really forgetful. I am, obviously, fortunate to be able to make that tradeoff.

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Via Kottke: have a huge collection of nuclear reactor cutaway diagrams. I’m sure these would be useful in someone’s RPG campaign.

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The Hugo Awards have very few nominators and no barrier to entry to becoming a nominator other than money, which creates room for an engaged fan base to get just about anything on the ballot. This is not news. We’ve seen Doctor Who dominate the short-form dramatic presentation ballot for half a decade. We’ve also seen an acceptance speech get nominated for short-form dramatic presentation. That went relatively well because people liked the guy who gave the speech. This year, unlikeable people got nominated.

This doesn’t mean there’s a significant chunk of right-wingers rising up to retake SF fandom, despite what Vox Day would like to think. Let’s look at the numbers. References: the LoneStarCon 3 stats for the 2013 Hugos (PDF) and this year’s nominations. Also, the 2013 Hugos had 1,343 nominations.

This year, there were 1,595 nominations for Best Novel. Last year, there were 1,113 nominations. That’s 43% more nominations. This year, there were 728 nominations for Best Novelette. Last year, there were 616 nominations. 18% more nominations.

The Winter 2013 LoneStarCon 3 Progress Report lists 1,773 members as of November 22, 2012. The December 2013 Loncon 3 Progress report says they had 4,282 members as of November 18th, 2013. That’s 141% more memberships. The Hugo nomination campaigning probably isn’t the reason why more people submitted nominations; the increase in memberships purchased more than explains it. I’m not going to assume that the 100+ increase in Best Novelette nominations was all Day/Correia voters.

It took 38 nominations to get on the Best Novelette ballot last year. Apply the 18% adjustment: it probably took between 44 and 45 nominations to get on the Best Novelette ballot this year. That’s not block voting, that’s a mild wave in a fairly shallow wave pool.

(For any kind of rigor I would go back and perform a similar analysis for the last ten years or so, to see if membership purchase rates and nomination rates ever track well together.)

Edit: Liz notes that it took 69 nominations to get on the Best Novelette ballot this year. So much for rigor. Thanks!

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In Filmspotting’s most recent episode, the hosts went through their top five directors whose movies you’d want on a desert island. In other words, if you were stuck on a desert island with a TV and a DVD player, which five directors’ complete works would you want? This is a fun game and an interesting twist so I played along.

On the whole I was closer to David Gordon Green’s choices than to those of the hosts. He’s not listed at the link above, but he chose John Landis, Alan Parker, Robert Altman, John Ford, and Stanley Kubrick. I think Alan Parker in particular is a brilliant choice.

I’d start with Steven Soderbergh. He has huge range: this gives me everything from classic indie movies to weird experimental stuff to blockbusters, and all of it is beautiful. I could rewatch any of these movies again and again. He’s also directed 40 or so movies, so there’s a lot of watching there.

Next: Kathryn Bigelow. She’s only got nine movies under her belt, so I lose all the ground I gained with Soderbergh. Doesn’t matter. I’d probably have her on the list if she’d only directed Near Dark, Strange Days, and The Hurt Locker. Her movies are consuming, and I want that if I’m stuck on this island.

Third is the Coen Brothers. Like Soderbergh, but even more so, their movies will reward repeat viewing. They’re also where I’m getting most of my comedies — dark, cynical, sometimes sad comedies, but nonetheless you have to laugh somehow.

From there we’ll go international and pick up Kar Wai Wong. This feels like cheating since I’m also getting a ton of Christopher Doyle cinematography. If it’s cheating, I have no regrets. I couldn’t live without someone from Asian cinema and preferably Hong Kong, and while John Woo might be more accessible, Kar Wai Wong will be better. Plus I still get a couple of good martial arts flicks.

Finally, and stolen from Adam Kempenaar’s list, Howard Hawks. Since I am a poor excuse for a film student, I didn’t think of him at once, but he’s an obvious choice. He worked in every genre, he made a huge number of great films, and he provides a superb window into earlier film. This also means I get some lighthearted movies. A win all around.

Savage Steve Holland does not make my list.

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This probably isn’t the result of his recent exposure on HBO, but he’s directing another teen comedy! I am irrationally excited and will remain so regardless of further news.

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So saith Massively. I am not at all surprised given what I know about the engineering teams working on that title. I am, nonetheless, tickled pink by this paragraph:

From my 50-hours-of-playtime perspective, though, the launch has in fact been completely lag-free. It’s also been one of the more polished overall launches I’ve experienced in a number of years, though I wouldn’t say it’s number one (Lord of the Rings Online had fewer quest bugs out of the gate, which was all the more impressive since smooth MMO launches were unheard of in 2007).

Aw yeah. Champion and still #1, LOTRO launch!

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Well, nah, but this does give me a pleasing frisson down the spine. For those of us who are not obsessive fans of Sorkin’s early (or even his later) work, Josh Charles played Dan Rydell on Sports Night as inspired by Keith Olbermann. Thus, putting them together on Olbermann’s current show is funny. Or it was funny before I explained it. Maybe I should have skipped that bit.

“You think?”

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